I first found Bernhard Schobinger's work whilst I was studying my degree at Manchester School of Art. His use of found objects combined with a well honed jeweller's skill and thoughtful composition proved that you could create wearable pieces in your own way, with the materials that interested you personally.
It was one of his bottle necklaces that I had first discovered, its raw edges and simplicity had not been interfered with for the sake of "making it into a piece of jewellery". It was honest and unprettified. you knew what the objects were or had been. Here they were for you to wear as your statement, a concept of the jeweller's thoughts or simply because you liked the colour, shape and texture, the same as any other piece of jewellery.
The other piece I remembered from my University days was the snake bangle. Almost cartoonish, it appealed to me with it's bright colour and the references to ancient jewellery, it had character. When I was looking at it more recently I noticed it had been coloured with malachite pigment. A mineral I love, the swirling greens of this marbled stone I have explored in my own work.
In this survey of Schobinger's work there was a vast display of techniques, materials and styles, as varied as the two pieces which stuck in my mind all these year. Much of the jewellery work featured precious elements as well as the unconventional materials which challenge perceptions of what is wearable, attractive and desirable.
However using a material which is rare and highly valued can reflect the time and effort put into a piece. If you are going to do something, do it well, as they say. This could mean using the best (finest?) materials possible.
The majority of my own work is based in resin, not a valuable material to be hoarded and hallmarked like gold but one which I can freely manipulate and create colours and textures through my personal experiments. I can then choose whether or not to combine it with precious metal or additional stones. I love the contrast of the precious components with the detritus and worn-out objects in Schobinger's pieces so I was interested to hear his thoughts on these materials so I posed the question, "Do you use precious materials for yourself, or for other people?" By this I meant, if it was up to him would he only use found objects? Was the use of precious items to make them easier to understand by a wider audience, a compromise to elevate the broken, cast away debris and display his unquestionable skills as a goldsmith, demonstrating his experience and traditional training? Bernhard's answer was that it was for himself, not for "investment" in the piece, it is the individual material qualities he likes not the value they have. This became evident in the talk given by himself and Jo Bloxham giving us a deeper look at some of the pieces in the exhibition...
This piece is cast in gold from a knot of plastic washing line Schobinger came across. Bernhard's Gallerist, Felix Flury from Gallery S O told me this was one of his favourite pieces as you could tell it's origins because of the particular tension in the knot. On Schobinger's precious version a single diamond moves freely from the end, his interpretation of a raindrop, suspended forever in one single drip.
Reminiscing on his apprenticeship days he spoke of the traps in the sink to collect gold particles when they washed their hands and how the emery paper was salvaged because of it's gilded surface after smoothing the precious metal pieces. These were established places where traditional skills were taught and jewellery was their business. The contrast of Schobinger when he talks about his own workshop shows the approach of an artist. He treats all materials the same with a workbench strewn with the things he collects, ready for action, on hand when inspiration strikes him.
In this way, a wrap of diamonds is easily knocked and scattered in the creative fray. He told us he gave himself 20 minutes to find what he could. And the rest? A votive offering to the gods of tidying up. Now and again as he works he might rediscover one of these tiny jewels, a diamond in the debris.
It is the material's properties which seem to matter most to him, how they can help him best achieve his creative intentions. For his saw-blade necklace seen in the exhibition he has used diamonds set in patterns of constellations. But as he puts it:
"They are not diamonds...they are stars".
Schobinger uses the materials that are accessible to him and interest him, whether they are a piece of broken cymbol salvaged from a dustbin or a rare pearl sourced from Japan. In this way I am reminded of Hubert Duprat's caddis fly lavae I saw at Musée des Arts Décoratifs. In Duprat's work he replaced the insects usual material of gravel, soil and organic debris, with grains of real gold and precious jewels. These little wonders gather whatever materials are available to them and form themselves their unique protective casing. By allowing them only gold and gems the results were beautiful bejewelled capsules, bespoke to each bug's design but they were oblivious to their value in our human, consumerist world.
I hope if Bernhard Schobinger ever reads this he takes this comparison as a compliment, as I mean it to be so. The way he creates jewellery is as natural and instinctive as the tiny creature enrobing themselves in the objects they collect, unaware of any other way of life. A natural jeweller.
Bernhard Schobinger, Rings of Saturn, is curated by Jo Bloxham with Felix Flury and Christopher Thompson Royds from Gallery S O. You can view the exhibition at Manchester Gallery until 19th October (details here), and also see more amazing work by artists like Schobinger at Gallery S O, Brick Lane, London (here).
Thanks for bringing such a great artist to our hometown!